By Luciana Lopez
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Workers who stayed late on Monday and kept parts of New York running while Hurricane Sandy brought the city to a standstill faced a dilemma: take a nerve-wracking walk home or find a floor space on which to bed down.
Before Sandy made landfall, subways and buses shut down, cabs were scarce and bridges and tunnels closed. So the question loomed: could workers get home?
At 99¢ Fresh Pizza on Broadway near Columbus Circle, Saleh Mohammad, 32, worked until past 6 p.m. on Monday - less than two hours before the storm touched down.
"It was a long walk," he said of his trek home to the east side, describing it as scary to walk through largely empty streets.
Epstein's Bar on the Lower East Side stayed open, manager Sean Maguire said. While some staff live nearby, Maguire got a hotel room for his two kitchen staff who would normally have taken a bus or subway train home to Queens.
Ellen's Stardust Diner in the Theater District, known for its singing wait staff, kept its doors open until about 11 p.m., said Grace Wall, a server at the restaurant. Servers did a conga line out into the rain to keep spirits up at the diner, which was full of tourists.
While the manager rented a car and drove some of the restaurant's staff home, "the waiters here stayed in my apartment," Wall said.
Including her two roommates, who also work at the diner, there were seven people in the "teeny, tiny" space: two to a bed and one on the couch, Wall said.
"Honestly, we kept making the joke - and I know it's morbid, but we kept saying, 'Well, if we're going down, this is the way to go down, having a big party.'"
It could be four to five days before subway service resumes, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday. About 5.3 million people use the city's round-the-clock subway system on weekdays. Modified bus service returned Tuesday afternoon, with the city aiming for a normal bus schedule on Wednesday.
With Lower Manhattan without electricity after an explosion at a Consolidated Edison power station on 14th Street, some workers have had to walk along darkened streets.
Many businesses said they tried to stay open as long as they could, while taking staff transportation needs into account. Verizon Wireless decided case-by-case which stores to keep open as long as possible, spokeswoman Andrea Kimmet said.
How employees get around was part of that assessment, she said. "If we could stay open, we would, based on how the storm was tracking."
In some cases, staying at home was not an option. Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration left little wiggle room for staff.
Ray Reigadas works for the department of records for the city. On Sunday, Reigadas got an email saying that he should make every effort to get to the office - or he'd have to take a personal day or comp time to make up the absence.
"We are basically forced to take vacation days because of a hurricane," he said. "Nothing I do has anything to do with disaster recovery."
(Reporting By Luciana Lopez; Editing by Martin Howell and Stacey Joyce)